Sen. Pat Roberts, the only person to serve as chairman of both the House ag committee and the Senate ag committee, says his goal is to be a voice for agriculture and for farmers and ranchers who in recent years "have felt more ruled than governed."
In a meeting with the North American Agricultural Journalists during their annual spring meeting in Washington, D.C., Roberts said he is also pleased to see "regular order" return the Senate, which has actually passed legislation this year.
"We have actually passed a budget, one that balances in 10 years and we've had a roll call vote on more than 100 amendments in the last three months," he said. "We are tackling trade authority, education reform and regulatory reform. We plan to introduce legislation that will overrule any EPA effort on Waters of the U.S."
Roberts, well-known for his leadership in the drafting of the 1996 "Freedom to Farm" legislation that radically overhauled farm programs and set up the framework that has allowed crop insurance to become the primary risk management safety net, said his personal agenda includes learning more about school lunches and how the rules governing them can be overhauled to give local school districts more flexibility in the food they serve.
"I've been eating school lunches in various places across Kansas," Roberts said. "I intend to eat more school lunches."
His impression so far, he said, is that the schools which have the most money and the least diversity among students, have the best lunches. Those with the least money and the most diversity struggle to meet the current guidelines.
"I'm still in listening and learning mode on this issue," he said. "I think nutrition is important but I also think schools need a lot more flexibility."
He offered assurance that the Grains Act, the Commodity Futures Trade Commission rules and mandatory price reporting would all pass with no major obstacles coming up. He added he is optimistic about trade with Cuba if concerns about human rights abuses and labor regulations can be allayed.
On Trade Promotion Authority, Roberts said he is more optimistic than he was a couple of months ago.
Questioned about an Environmental Working Group report criticizing crop insurance because payments for prevented planting tend to be concentrated in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, Roberts said he thinks crop insurance is the most valuable risk management tool that farmers have and that changing it would be very detrimental.
"Without crop insurance, you go back to the old system of disaster payments that we all know didn't work," he said. "Farmers don't want to go back and neither do I. And I will just add: We are not going to reopen the Farm Bill."
On a final note, he said, Republicans are working on a plan that will mitigate the damage should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor the plaintiffs who want to prevent residents of states whose governors refused to set up a health insurance exchange, including Kansas, from being able to get federal subsidies.
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